Hubble captures rare comet activity
Today’s Video of the Day from NASA Goddard describes a comet that has settled near a family of ancient asteroids called Trojans after traveling several billion miles toward the Sun.
This is the first time a comet has been spotted near the Trojans, which are orbiting the Sun alongside Jupiter.
The comet belongs to a class of icy bodies found in space between Jupiter and Neptune called “Centaurs.” These space objects do not become active until they approach the Sun. As they are heated, they transition into a comet-like state.
Images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope reveal that the object shows signs of comet activity, such as a tail, outgassing in the form of jets, and an enshrouding coma of dust and gas, according to NASA.
“Only Hubble could detect active comet-like features this far away at such high detail, and the images clearly show these features, such as a roughly 400,000-mile-long broad tail and high-resolution features near the nucleus due to a coma and jets,” said lead Hubble researcher Bryce Bolin, who said it was a very rare event.
“The visitor had to have come into the orbit of Jupiter at just the right trajectory to have this kind of configuration that gives it the appearance of sharing its orbit with the planet. We’re investigating how it was captured by Jupiter and landed among the Trojans. But we think it could be related to the fact that it had a somewhat close encounter with Jupiter.”
Video Credit: NASA Goddard
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